No fixed limit for storing simple visual features: Working memory capacity for colors is increased when remembered as parts of realistic objects
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Description: Prominent theories of visual working memory postulate that the capacity to maintain a particular visual feature is fixed. In contrast to these theories, recent studies have demonstrated that meaningful objects are better remembered than simple, non-meaningful stimuli. Here, we test whether this is solely because meaningful stimuli can recruit additional features — and thus more storage capacity — or whether simple visual features that are not themselves meaningful can also benefit from being part of a meaningful object. Across five experiments (each N=30) we demonstrate that visual working memory capacity for color is increased when colors are part of recognizable real-world objects compared to unrecognizable objects. Our results indicate that meaningful stimuli provide a potent scaffold to help maintain simple visual feature information, possibly because they increase the dimensionality of these feature representations, effectively increasing their distinctiveness and reducing interference.